Mayor to release budget next week; Will taxes go up?

Mayor Mark Lauretti will release his proposed fiscal year 2014-15 budget by the end of next week. “I’m working on it — it’s right in front of me now,” the mayor recently said.

The new fiscal year will begin on July 1, and the final budget should be approved sometime in May.

Based on the city charter, Lauretti must release his budget by March 22, which is a Saturday this year.

He usually gives a short presentation when releasing the budget at a joint meeting of the Board of Aldermen and the Board of Apportionment and Taxation.

(Note: The print edition of this article had inadvertently stated the fiscal year begins July 1. We regret the error and any confusion it may have caused.)

Will it include a tax increase?

Lauretti wouldn’t say whether he expects his new budget to include a tax increase, noting it hasn’t been finalized yet.

“A lot depends on what the Board of Education gets, or doesn’t get,” he said. “Everything else is fine.”

The Board of Education has requested a 5.4% spending increase, or about $3.5 million in additional funds, over its current $65.6-million budget.

This includes funding to begin full-day kindergarten as well as add some new positions. It also takes into account higher employee salary and benefit costs, and higher transportation expenses.

‘Grain of salt’

Lauretti said the BOE’s budget request is too high. “They won’t get $3.5 million,” he said.

He noted the BOE’s cost of full-day kindergarten began at $1 million but now would require only about $370,000 in new operating funds.

“You have to take them with a grain of salt,” Lauretti said of BOE budget requests. “I’ve learned that through the years.”

According to the BOE, the cost of beginning full-day kindergarten would be almost $950,000, but some of the needed funds would come from outside the school system’s operating budget.

Some new kindergarten teaching positions would be offset by having fewer teachers in other elementary grades, while some other full-day K costs would be switched to the city’s capital budget.

Lauretti said once the BOE receives its allotment, it will be up to the BOE how to spend that money. “There are choices they have to make,” Lauretti said.

The budget process

The mayor’s budget proposal will be scrutinized and voted on first by the Board of Apportionment and Taxation and then by the Board of Aldermen.

The city’s current budget is $115.83 million, which represented a spending increase of 0.2% from the previous year. Last July 1, taxes went down 0.4% from the previous year, lowering most people’s taxes by $10 to $25.